RATIONAL THEOLOGY IN ENGLAND.*
EVERY thoughtful and liberal Englishman who reads these volumes will feel that Principal Tulloch has laid him under obligation in writing them. It is not the first time we have been indebted to outsiders for revealing to us the value of some of our best teachers. Whether we admit or not the claims of the Germans to have first taught us to appreciate Shakespeare, it is matter of notoriety that the earliest recognition of some of the greatest thinkers of these islands has come from abroad. There is nothing, there- fore, extraordinary in the fact that it is a Scotch Professor whom Englishmen must henceforth acknowledge as having been the first to do justice to a great movement in the theological and philosophical thought of England in the seventeenth century. Of course, to every educated reader the names of the Cam- bridge Platonists—Cudworth, More, John Smith, Whichcote, and others—and those of the Liberal Churchmen—Lord Falk- land, John Hales, William Chillingworth — have been always familiar. But to the majority they have been names, and nothing more. Even Cudworth's Intellectual System, which is a vast storehouse of forgotten lore and living thoughts curiously intermingled, is a work more respected than read. The utmost that can be said to have been done in regard to these writers has been to estimate their general influence on the philo- sophical thought of England in a somewhat vague manner. Their real work, their historical position in relation to the ecclesiastical and religious thought of the Church and the country, has not hitherto been determined. Principal Tulloch is the first who has systematically sought to exhibit them in their true historical connections, to vindicate for them a distinctive national place, to assign to them a position in the historical development of English thinking in its bear- ings upon English life. To do such a work in the spirit of wise comprehensiveness required for it needed a writer of no ordinary gifts. No one, however, can doubt that Principal Tul- loch was well qualified to accomplish it. Naturally tolerant, his tolerance has yet none of the feebleness that springs from indifferentism. He is and has always been the earnest champion of tolerance of variety of opinions, because convinced that only thereby could men make progress towards truth. That is too large to be grasped in its entire extent by individuals so as to be bound down under fixed formulas, never to vary from one generation to another and from century to century. It is through historical process, contributed to and advanced by the successive efforts of all the noble army of truth-seekers who have existed in the world from the dawn of conscious life, that progress has been made. And through the continued efforts of men likeminded will progress continue to be made. Even a revela- tion of absolute truth could not supersede such a course of his- torical development. For Revelation is not an external quantity that can be transferred as it stands into the minds of men. Only in and through the connection between the source of light and the recipiency of it can the light become real, so as to shine, and by • Rational Theology and Christian Philosophy in England in the Seventeenth Century. By John Tulloch, D.D., Principal of St. Mary's College, in the LTniversity of St. Andrew's, &c. 2 vols. Edinburgh and London: W. Blackwood and Sons.
shining dispel the darkness. Hence it is impossible in the nature of things that Revelation could supersede reason, that the super natural should do without the co-operation of the natural. Rathe is revelation the very aliment of reason, and nature and the super- natural are bound together not merely through unity of authorship, but through analogy of character.
But if the old antagonism between Faith and Reason is removed, if the sacred deposit of saving truth which men have believed was bestowed upon a society or shut up in a book must be subjected to rational criticism, and tested and analysed by human thought, will not men gradually cease to attribute any sacredness whatever to the Christian scheme of thought itself ? The question may be, and by many has been, answered in the affirmative. With such Principal Tulloch has no sympathy. Claiming and contending for the largest latitude in thought and inquiry, he yet holds it impossible that these can ultimately lead to the elimination of the cardinal facts on which Christi- anity rests. There is no uncertainty of sound in the tone in which he speaks of these. The reality of the super- sensual, the fact that God reveals Himself to men's spirits, and has historically unfolded Himself in Christ, the elevation above things of time and sense of that which in man is his essential nature, and the community of the spirit of man with God, are made plain to the reader as the first and last principles of Dr. Tulloch's religious philosophy. Instead, therefore, of tending to- wards scepticism, of insinuating doubts of the reality of the super- natural, or of tempting men to regard themselves as mere children of nature, his works have a directly opposite influence and effect. They tend to raise men's thoughts to the contemplation of their lofty destiny, they teach constantly, both directly and in- directly, that men are the children of God, of the living God who is their Father, and heirs of immortality. Thus a spirit of devo- tion is fostered, at the same moment that lofty thoughts are suggested. In this way Principal Tulloch is really one of the most effective Christian apologists. If this be the spirit of his work, his preparation for the fulfilment of the task be has undertaken in these volumes has also been real and thorough. His researches have been in the historical sphere, but on its internal more than on its external side. He has sought out the ruling spiritual and rational influences that have moulded the minds of men since the starting-point of what is distinctively the modern period at the Reformation. He has familiarised himself with the great lines of thought which, running aide by side, or coming often in contact and collision with each other, have resulted in the forms of ecclesiastical and theological activity now witnessed in our own country. The titles of his previously published works are an indication of this. In The Leaders of the Reformation he had to deal with the wider circle of influences, and in English Puritanism audits Leaders he was brought face to face with a more national, if necessarily somewhat narrower work. Thus by long and careful study, by wide scholarship, by comprehensive catholic sympathies, by philosophical insight, and the habit of analysing historical results in the ecclesiastical and theological sphere into their spiritual and rational elements, he has been prepared for doing the work he has now accomplished. Add to these qualifications that Dr. Tulloch writes in an eloquent, masculine, and impressive style, and enough has been said to demonstrate his fitness for the task of fixing the true place of, and assigning their real character and influence to the Liberal Churchmen and the Cambridge Platonists of England in the seventeenth century.
From what we have already stated, it will be seen that the movement of which these volumes treat was twofold. It was ecclesiastical, and it was also theological. And to this division there corresponds an actual division among its promoters. The men who fostered and furthered higher and more liberal, because more rational and comprehensive, views of the functions and pro- vince of the Church were not the same men who quickened religious thought at its roots, and paved the way for a wider comprehension in theology. Dr. Tulloch starts with the first and goes on to the second. Hence the first volume deals with the Liberal Churchmen whose names have been mentioned. Their aim was to find a firm standing-ground midway between the opposite and mutually ex- clusive High Anglicans on the one side, and the dogmatic Puritans on the other. Hence they opposed with vigour and force, and with a wealth of rational argument, the contentions of those who on one side or other maintained the divine right of special forms of Church government. Though abiding by Episcopacy, they did so because they were able to vindicate its reasonableness, not because they believed it had been revealed in Scripture as the true and only form.
No form of Church government, they asserted, was of Divine
authority except in the general sense that what is most rational is binding, because the light of reason is itself of divine origin. Ac- cording to the varying circumstances and conditions of the Church, there might be several different forms equally suitable at different times. The Church itself was not so much any particular organisa- tion, as a society whose members bad certain dispositions. Its idea was spiritual and moral, not ritual. The Church was therefore in- clusive and comprehensive, not exclusive and dogmatic. The recog- nition of the realities of Christian thought and life, rather than the acceptance of any special system, was its foundation. The Liberal Churchmen were broad enough to adopt the Apostles' Creed as their basis of doctrine, and they held that the national Church should be broad enough to include all who could make the same profession. In proportion to its greater comprehensiveness of varieties of spiritual activity, the Church was the more and not the less divine. This purely ecclesiastical movement was the • work of divines of the Church of England, and was supplemented by the second and deeper movement of which we have spoken, carried out also by men belonging to the same Church. From questions of Church polity and external organisa- tion the Cambridge Platonists, as the religions controversies of the time took a wider and extended sweep, rose to a higher level. They saw the necessity of regarding the questions with which they were brought to deal at their foundations. Accordingly they passed into the broader field of religious and philosophical discussion, in order to vindicate on the ground of reason the in- terests of the Christian religion. The earlier question, the necessity, namely, of broadening and liberalising the constitution of the National Church, had not disappeared. But the philosophy of Hobbes, amongst other influences, had forced the more fundamental questions regarding the nature, bases, and warrants of religion, the nature and existence of God, the individuality and independ- ence of mind, as separate from and above matter, the immortality of the soul, and others, to the front. These were the questions with which the Cambridge Platonists had to deal. It had become a necessity under the advancing philosophical conceptions of the the age—men's thoughts being acted upon and widened by the speculations of philosophers like Hobbes and Des Cartes—to vindicate the rationality of the Christian faith. Though all of them were not fully equipped by philosophical training for the task, yet Cudworth, for example, was evidently lei to yindicate Christianity against Materialism, mainly in reaction against the teaching of Hobbes, and in order to meet the destructive principles of that great thinker. More, on the other hand, was little versed in Hobbes, and seemingly but partially trained in the history of recent philosophy. Indeed, it is the great defect of the group that they were not sufficiently receptive of the philosophical thought of their own time. They were too full of Plato and the Neo- Platonists, and too entirely under the power of their special specu- lative tendencies, and even of the forms of their speculation, to be able to do justice to the new spirit in philosophical inquiry, which in their day was taking possession of the higher thought of the age. We believe this was the reason why they have been to so large an extent ignored, and why their influence has not been more permanent.
The Liberal Churchmen who led the first of the two movements were chiefly from Oxford, while the leaders of the second were almost exclusively from Cambridge. The latter were more closely connected together by personal associations than the former, and their influence as of a special school has been the more real and lasting of the two. Another contrast between the two groups is that while the former came mainly from the High Church and Royalist side in the great struggle of the period, the latter originated from the Puritan side, and owed their position to the triumph of the Parliament and the favour of the Protector. This contrast of origin is not, as Principal Tulloch says, accidental. Each of them was naturally determined to reaction against the prevalent force or tendency that dominated in the society to which they belonged.
And the Cambridge Platonisca can be traced to have been led to adopt the attitude they assumed by the necessity imposed on them by the circumstances of the time, of protesting against the ecclesiastical narrowness and dogmatism by which they were surrounded. They did this, but they sought to make their protest effective by a positive and constructive work. Therefore their great aim was to show the reasonableness of Christianity,—to lay the foundations of a Christian philosophy ; in short, to reconcile faith and reason by preserving both, and allowing to each the whole • scope and functions it was entitled by its nature to claim. In tracing the history of this double movement, Dr. Tulloch adopts the biographical method. Beginning with the Liberal Churchmen, he passes in review Lord Falkland, the champion• of " A Moderate and Liberal Church," John Hales of Eton, who sought to indicate the due relations of " Religion and Dogmatic Orthodoxy," William Chillingwortb, who vindicated " The Religion of Protestants ; " Jeremy Taylor, who asserted the claim to " Liberty of Christian Teaching within the Church ;" and Edward Stilliugfleet, who provided " the Irevicum of a Com- prehensive Church." In the second volume, dealing with the Cambridge Platonists, we have similarly brought before us Benjamin Whichcote, whose task it was to exhibit the right relations of " Reason and Religion ; " John Smith, who laid the " Foundations of a Christian Philosophy ; " Ralph Cudworth, the champion of " Christian Philosophy in Conflict with Materialism ;." Henry More, the type of " Christian Theology and Mysticism," and one or two names of minor note. In every case we have a biographical sketch, with a summary of the opinions and relative positions of each of these men. General chapters are interspersed through the work, tracing the historical sources and connections of the thought of which they were the representatives, and showing finally the importance and value of their services, and the necessity that the comprehensive Church and the religious philosophy after which they strove should still be sought in the deepest interest of humanity. It will thus be seen, that though the work is composed. of a number of separate and seemingly independent parts, there is a unity of plan and structure binding these together in a consistent whole. We are shown the historical origin of the movement these men carried forward iu the tendencies of Protes- tant thought at the time of the Reformation. We are taught how the conflicts of exclusive Anglicans and dogmatic Puritans made neces- sary such a movement in England, if the Church was to correspond to the true ideal of a National Church. Although it is impossible not to observe a want of method and philosophic order in the school, and a lack therefore of that distinct progress within its own bounds which a more philosophical spirit demands, and might have brought, it is impossible not to acknowledge the great influence which the two schools have exercised upon English religious thought. What strikes one, indeed, as somewhat strange, is that England and the English Church should not earlier have had representatives of a school whose historical founder may be said to have been the immortal Hooker. But Hooker remained isolated in his life, and till long after his death. He first took root, Dr. Tulloch shows us, iu Whichcote, and his influence has never wholly ceased since. It is a living and operative influence now. Not the least valuable lesson taught by the work is the neces- sity that the Church of England, if it is to continue really National, should include the various elements and activities of the religious life of the nation. Therefore there must be room in it for all classes and orders of Churchmen. The Broad Churchman,. in elaiming his own birthright of freedom, ought to be the last to forget that in the National Church that would correspond to his ideal, there must be a place for the actual historical forces and tend- encies represented by those who in our own day are severally called. High Churchmen and Low Churchmen.